John Hannan outside Westminster

John writes:

I spoke at the House of Lords yesterday about our achievement of the Ethical Labour Sourcing Standard.

Baroness Young of Hornsey hosted the reception at the House of Lords to mark the launch of ELS online, a digital tool to help companies to achieve the Ethical Labour Sourcing Standard (ELS).

I was delighted to take part in the event: VGC is very keen to do all we can to promote ethical labour practices. And it was great to see so many clients and suppliers attending.Invitation to the event at the House of Lords

Do it right

I’ve worked my way up through VGC on the HSQE side – health, safety, quality and environment. The drive to ‘do it right’ is ingrained in the way we do things. The same applies to being ethical in the way we work. And like health and safety, it can’t be done by just one person: it needs a joint effort.

When we started the ethical labour standard journey, I thought: “We are supplier of labour and recruiter of people: we have the knowhow in this sector.” But I soon realised that BES 6002 is much more and broadens the definition of ‘labour’.

More than 1,200 people work directly for us, and we are supported by a very small supply chain. Because many of our resources are on client sites, it’s our business to ensure their businesses are protected, as well as ours.

Where do I start?

When we first considered the standard and talked to BRE, I thought: “Hard hats made in China, boots made in Taiwan, tools from all over the globe…. Where do I start? This could involve significant travel.” But I knew we had a lot to offer from a labour perspective. So we had to get involved, although in a small way as one of 50 companies giving input.

We were able to contribute to give the ethical labour agenda a little bit of structure, to make it apply to the construction industry. You can do it sensibly – without heading off to far-flung lands trying to effect change. It doesn’t have to be about checking zips on high-visibility clothing from Taiwan! We looked at where we can effect change with and for our suppliers and clients in the first instance

We all want to work ethically and do what is morally right. Achieving the ELS has given us a useful starting point to see how we can drive improvements.

What does the process involve?

The best advice I could give is to assign time to give your business a really honest health check. The ELS suggests structuring this to include:

  • Organisation structure
  • Management policies
  • Management systems
  • Assurance, compliance and auditing
  • Human resources
  • Immigration
  • Procurement practices
  • Supply chain management
  • Bribery and corruption
  • Learning and development
  • Forums
  • Reporting

These areas are our ‘bread and butter’, but the standards encouraged us to review them from a different level, and move beyond just compliance.

The fact that VGC already had

  • ISO 9001
  • ISO 14001
  • ISO 50001
  • Gold level membership of the Supply Chain Sustainability School
  • membership of Buildforce, Women into Construction and the 5% club
  • and had also signed the FIR (fairness, inclusion and respect) in Construction ‘better for everyone’ commitment

gave us a great start. But actually, with the support we received from BRE these weren’t absolutely necessary. The evidence they accept comes in many shapes and sizes and formats.

Looking into our business

The time we assigned to completing the questionnaire and gathering all the evidence was definitely worthwhile. It gave us an opportunity to see exactly where we may need to sharpen a pencil – and where we’re doing quite a good job.

The audit process was helpful, but in fact the extensive work, and a willingness to look deeply into our business and that of our supply chain was more worthwhile than the verification itself. We found the most beneficial part of the process was definitely the way it allowed us to target the areas we can influence, and to prioritise our action plan, with the help of Nigel and Shamir from BRE and our board. The spider graph illustration was a really useful way of presenting our action plan.

The whole process really helped us target our our objectives.

We have identified 14 areas where we can have an impact locally. We set these out as objectives to continue developing ourselves regarding the Ethical Labour Sourcing Standard. One of these, a campaign around fairness inclusion and respect, is already substantially under way.

I hope that by participating with the BRE Group, and using the resources and support they offer, we will all see tangible improvements year-on-year. Ultimately ethical working will become as ingrained in our industry as working safely, and working sustainability, have.

There are limited participants in the scheme at the moment – we are the only labour supplier, and one of only three companies so far. As  more people get involved, the greater the impact we will have, and we will all be able to learn from one another, and make big changes to the industries we work in.

John Hannan, HSQE director
Author: John Hannan, HSQE director

If anyone is keen to discuss the experience with me, please get in touch through our contact us page.

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